11 July 2022

Towards more engaged philanthropy infrastructure

What is on the hearts and minds of the leaders of philanthropy infrastructure organisations? In this interview, Rana Kotan, Secretary General, the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) and Delphine Moralis, CEO, Philea, discuss how philanthropy support organisations can drive ambitious philanthropic practice and build a common positive agenda. They also address how PEXforum 2022 in Istanbul will allow infrastructure organisations to embrace the lens of systems change to harness the transformative power of collaboration.

What keeps you both up at night?

Delphine Moralis: I guess there is quite a lot that does. You could say that Madeleine Albright’s words “I am an optimist that worries a lot” resonate with me.

When reflecting on the main issues, I’d like to highlight some of the points that keep our members awake at night. Last year we asked them about the big topics that philanthropy would need to focus on in the next couple of years. They shared three primary issues.

The first one is the climate crisis. In the face of the urgent change that is needed, we are not yet moving forward collectively with sufficient decisive action. If you look at the recent decision of the US Supreme Court against the Environmental Protection Agency, or how coal is coming back in conversations in the wake of the energy crisis, this makes me worry whether we will be able to move the needle in time.

The second issue is inequality. We know that inequality has aggravated dramatically since the start of the pandemic. According to Oxfam, the world’s ten richest people have doubled their fortunes, while over 160 million people are on the brink of falling into poverty. Other types of inequalities are also increasingly aggravated, and are often linked to systemic attacks on human rights, which I worry a lot about.

Last but not least, democracy is another area of concern. The Russian regime’s blatant attack of Ukraine is something we should all be concerned about, particularly in light of its global ripple effects. Other forms of the democratic decline are happening within Europe and around the world, and we’re seeing increased disengagement with institutions, especially among young people.

Rana Kotan: I must say I am not a kind of person who worries all the time. I meditate regularly. I get inspired by the spiritual master Eckhardt Tolle. I try to stay in the present and remind myself that I shouldn’t worry about possible negative scenarios that may happen in the future, because they may never happen. But once they happen, I worry a lot.

I echo Delphine’s points. From a European perspective, I think she is right to say that the climate crisis, democratic backsliding and rising inequalities are the most important and cross-cutting issues we face. 

What keeps me up at night however, reflects more my own country’s perspective. There are significant challenges that Turkish civic space professionals deal with, ranging from political pressure to economic viability issues, safety and security concerns, judicial charges, and smear campaigns. Their physical and mental well-being keeps me up at night.

We are losing skilled and experienced people. Younger generations are less willing to work in civil society organisations. I’m thinking about how we can support and maintain resilient and passionate people to address all the challenges and inequalities our societies face.

I am also thinking a lot about what the next crisis will be. Turkey is a country of natural disasters. I’m wondering if we are prepared. Last June, I attended a workshop in Tbilisi where we discussed how government, philanthropic actors and other key stakeholders should act during crises. All these parties should have multi-dimensional and multi-stakeholder crisis plans in advance.

The critical role that civil society plays in such scenarios should be emphasized, as they are the first responders who have the expertise to deliver support immediately.

Amidst an avalanche of crises, how can philanthropy build a positive agenda and drive action?

Delphine Moralis: I believe that optimism is a moral duty. And I think optimism is even more so for philanthropy. Our sector is so uniquely well placed to look at ways in which change is possible, to create a vision for a better future and to build on evidence-based hope, as was suggested by Michael O’Flaherty at the Philea Forum this year.

We have seen many examples of evidence-based hope in practice in the past decades. With the global development goals we’ve managed to lift millions of people out of poverty and get girls into schools more than ever before. During the COVID-19 crisis, and partially thanks to the support of philanthropy, it was possible to develop, implement and share vaccines at a more rapid pace than ever before. Young people, despite being disengaged from institutions, care very much about the issues that will matter tomorrow, for example, they are very engaged around climate.

To move on these, I think philanthropy needs to create opportunities to innovate and take risks. Philanthropy has the freedom and ability to respond to critical challenges faced by society. For me, a hope lies with looking at what societies will need tomorrow.

We can see that philanthropy continues to do that. Philanthropic giving and engagement is on the rise: in May 2020, European philanthropy mobilised more than 1.1 billion euros according to a McKinsey study. Transnational Giving Europe reports that cross-border giving in Europe has also increased from 13.1 million euro in 2019, to 28.8 million euros in 2020. That’s pretty impressive.

What is perhaps even more important, is that philanthropy has the ability to connect to people and communities, and to build bridges. It is an interconnected living fabric of knowledge and creativity, which taps into the hearts and souls of so many people around the world, uniting them to create good.

Rana Kotan: Philanthropy has the power and resources to bring an issue to the agenda of key stakeholders who can be part of the solution. I agree with Delphine that apart from funds, they also bring influence, connections and reputation, which help drive action. I used to work for the Sabanci Foundation. Back in 2013, we were exposed to the urgency of the problem of early and forced marriage, when we received an incredible amount of grant applications on this topic. We decided to address it by creating more awareness, especially in cities and neighborhoods where this problem was prevalent, we engaged a famous Turkish singer to dedicate a song to this issue, which was disseminated nationwide, we collaborated with different civil society and feminist organisations. Early marriage rates are falling in Turkey – there is now greater awareness and more civil society organisations working on this issue.

Some philanthropic organisations make efforts to transform ecosystems. One such example is the Vehbi Koc Foundation, which brings together various stakeholders around the common mission of developing an ecosystem of social entrepreneurship, they enhance the capacities of civil society organisations and activists and promote stronger dialogue with public institutions.

These and many others give us hope as they make problems visible and progress possible. Highlighting inspiring examples with verbal and visual storytelling, giving visibility to changemakers and celebrating small wins all help to build a positive agenda.

Is there any specific role of philanthropy infrastructure in collectively shaping positive narrative?

Delphine Moralis: I think philanthropy infrastructure organisations play a key role: they bring funders and communities together, and they have the potential to drive ambitious philanthropic practice and collective action. We have the bird’s eye view – horizontal and deep – of what’s happening within the sector, which allows us to build knowledge, offer insights into emerging and new practices, build on the capabilities of individual members to provide examples on what works and what doesn’t, and help the sector evolve in a more impactful direction. It’s exciting how philanthropy infrastructure can play a role in collectively shaping a positive agenda.

I completely agree with Rana that creating visibility for changemakers and celebrating small wins is crucial. Our recent campaign #WhenWeUnite, launched at the Philea Forum in Barcelona, highlights and showcases the diversity and breadth of philanthropic action across Europe as a potential for public good. We believe that when we unite, we can create a better world.

Philanthropy infrastructure is ultimately about collaboration. If we were to aggregate beyond what each of philanthropy networks is able to do within their own membership and bring the philanthropy infrastructure organisations together, we would be able to do so much more. That’s what PEX is about. It’s an open space for learning, for collaborating, for testing new ideas. It’s a space where we can bring together diverse infrastructure organisations, thinking through what our role is, where we can complement each other, and where we can challenge each other.

When we are together, we can create that positive narrative, and we’ve already seen it happen. We’ve seen it in action during the COVID-19 crisis and now during the war in Ukraine. We came together and launched a platform “Philanthropy for Ukraine“, to build bridges between the work that was being done by the members of several infrastructure organisations, and connect it to the work that is carried out by NGOs.

There are so many examples of how we can create a positive narrative, I’m hopeful that we’ll get to really exciting conversations about this when we meet in Istanbul for PEXforum.

Rana Kotan: A philanthropy infrastructure organisation is a convener, a dialogue starter, a thought leader, a safe space creator, a community builder, as well as a bridge builder across different stakeholders. These are all the intangible qualities that philanthropy support organisations possess. It is a very difficult but meaningful role!

We have the power to engage our members and the wider community and inspire them to take action. Delphine talked about #WhenWeUnite campaign, which is a great example. At TUSEV, we bring civil society organisations together with our #PaylasmaGunu campaign (#GivingTuesday Turkey). This is an important opportunity for civil society organisations, companies, schools and individuals to celebrate the spirit of giving and contribute to social causes. These are some examples for collectively shaping positive narratives.

As philanthropy support organisations, we should harness our power of building bridges between divides. An important communication gap exists between civil society and public authorities. We convey our members’ and civil society organisations’ key concerns, we make sure that authorities become aware of ongoing problems and they know we are ready to work with them to be part of the solution. The channel we create for a long-term dialogue is a strong asset of ours.

I would like to elaborate on Delphine’s “birds eye view” concept. We accumulate a lot of knowledge from all over the sector, nationally and internationally, which we owe to them to share. The late Hayrettin Karaca, founder of the TEMA Foundation, which works on environment and soil erosion, used to say: “The one who has, owes to the one who doesn’t have, the one who knows owes to the one, who doesn’t know”. An import mission of a philanthropy support organisation is to share information, data, know-how and good practices with the wider community.

Delphine Moralis: I agree with Rana, and, of course, what we are able to deliver depends on the important engagement and support of our members.

Philea was born out of the convergence of Dafne and the EFC and now embraces both foundations and national associations in its membership. What synergies can you already observe?

Delphine Moralis: We are already seeing how bringing national associations and foundations together gives us more opportunities to learn, and more opportunities to imagine what we can do together. Ultimately, it’s not only about individual organisations, it’s also about the system to which they contribute, with the national associations and the 10,000 foundations that they represent. That is a positive thing for European philanthropy. We are now, more than ever before, able to be a collective voice for European philanthropy and support all ongoing efforts to harness philanthropy’s multidimensional potential.

We managed to bring those two organisations together in a forward looking and bold organisation that wants to play its part in bringing the best out of the philanthropic ecosystem. Of course, it’s not an easy task. There are over 147,000 public benefit foundations in Europe. These foundations are incredibly diverse. They’re embedded in very different and diverse philanthropic traditions, cultures and legal contexts. Within Philea, we need to make sure that we understand, take that into account and think through potential obstacles but also the exciting opportunities that exist from this diverse membership.

What is important to me is for us, at Philea, to do this with humility and an understanding of the larger context. We can only do this if we collaborate with others. That means also collaborating with many partners within PEX in an engaging way, and building a positive and mutually reinforcing relationship. We are only a piece of the puzzle, and it is by bringing all of these pieces of the puzzle together, that change can really happen.

TUSEV is going to host PEXforum this year, a gathering of over 70 regional, national, European and global philanthropy networks. What is the state of Turkish civil society & philanthropy?

Rana Kotan: Civil society organisations play a significant role in Turkey, which has traditionally a strong culture for philanthropy dating back to the Ottoman era.

There are 121,976 registered associations and 5,906 foundations operating alongside many informal organisations. Most of the foundations operate their own assets and programs (there are very few grantmakers). Organisations’ areas of work are mostly concentrated in social solidarity, social services, education, health and various rights-based issues. Rights-based organisations constitute a very small segment of civil society organisations. In fact, according to public data, only 1.2% are active in the field of human rights and advocacy, and it is the least funded issues amongst Turkish philanthropists.

Turkish civil society is very much alive and diverse, but civil society organisations are trying to stay resilient in an environment of shrinking civic space. Unfortunately, freedom of association, assembly and speech have been eroding in Turkey through restrictive interpretations of legislation, pressure, dismissals, and frequent court cases against activists, journalists, academics, and social media users. Some human rights organisations get targeted and face criminalisation. Some of them go through repetitive audits and inspections. A few of them face lawsuits demanding closure. The recent AML/CFT (Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism) issue adds an additional layer of challenges to civic activity.

Laws and legislations regulating civil society sector are restrictive. The Law on Aid Collection is probably one the most restrictive fundraising regulations globally. As TUSEV, we work hard to make the case for amending the laws to achieve a more enabling legal and operating environment for civil society organisations in Turkey.

What will be the focus of this year’s PEXforum?

Delphine Moralis: This year, the theme of the conference is “Driving (eco)system change: Exploring the transformative power of collaboration in philanthropy”. We will focus on how we can work together as an ecosystem towards systemic change, and how we can build tangible collaboration. Using these lenses of systemic change and collaboration will allow us to have very exciting conversations as we delve into social inequality, community-led development, equitable grant-making practices and trust in philanthropy. 

These lenses are very much at the heart of PEX as a community. PEXcommunity has been built on the principles of openness, inclusivity and participation. It’s very much reflected in the way we work. We brought together our partners within PEX to co-create the forum and the agenda. We look forward to leveraging collective vision to address the challenges that keep all of us awake at night.

I’m extremely grateful to all of the partners involved in the PEXforum, we wouldn’t be able to organise this if it wasn’t on the basis of their excellent inputs and ideas. And of course, I’m also thankful to TUSEV, who will be the co-hosts for the forum, and will welcome us to Istanbul and introduce us to Turkish civil society and philanthropy. We’re very much looking forward to that.

What are your expectations of the PEXforum? What added value do you expect the Forum to have on Turkish philanthropic sector by bringing it to Istanbul?

Rana Kotan: PEXforum will enable European philanthropy to meet with Turkish philanthropy, better understand the dynamics, experience Turkish culture, food, history and be inspired by the great work done in a politically challenged environment.

Turkish professionals will have the chance to meet with leaders from all over Europe, learn more about the European agenda and build connections which may lead to future collaborations around mutually beneficial topics.

We have been working hard with Philea to create a rewarding experience for all participants. I would also like to thank Delphine and the wonderful Philea team for their passion and creativity in putting the programme together. We truly enjoyed being part of this process and look forward to welcoming participants in Istanbul. I hope everyone will be refreshed after their vacations and come with all the energy, ready to rock on!

What is your vision for the philanthropic sector in Europe in ten years?

Delphine Moralis: I hope the sector continues to build on the multi-dimensional ways in which it can contribute, and works towards becoming a sector that is strategic and bold. I hope the sector makes true its promise to be a risk taker, but without ever losing touch of the reality on the ground. The diversity of the sector is where a lot of its beauty lies, it’s where cross pollination and creativity happens.

I hope to see a sector that listens, that learns from successes and failures, and that creates space to reinvent a more sustainable and inclusive future. Creating space to reinvent is not something to take for granted, it needs to be intentionally embedded in what we do every day.

I also hope that we will see a sector that is stronger, because it connects, rather than operating in silos. It can do this by building bridges, at least within the sector itself, through strong infrastructure organisations as key marketplaces for new ideas, collaborations and inspiration. But beyond this, I hope to see foundations also collaborate with authorities, with other parts of societies, and importantly also with their grantees.

Rana Kotan: I envision and hope that in ten years’ time a more enabling environment will emerge for philanthropy and civil society all over Europe. I sincerely hope that our combined advocacy efforts will lead to this outcome.

I hope the power imbalance between grantmakers and grantees will be reduced with the adaptation of more participatory approaches and increased listening to grantees working on the ground as opposed to the imposition of agendas.

I expect to see more variety of actors entering the philanthropic sphere including companies, HNWIs, next generation philanthropists, tech professionals, and entrepreneurs who will find a way to work together to create collective impact.

I believe in the next ten years, we will make use of AI, as well as blockchain technologies, NFTs, metaverse and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). We know DAOs were effectively used for fundraising in the Ukrainian  crisis. They allow donors to directly contribute to causes from all over the world. With an absence of regulation on these technologies at the moment, I also expect regulation will be introduced over the next decade, and I hope human rights and privacy matters will be an important part of it.

How can PEXforum contribute to making your vision for philanthropy a reality?

Rana Kotan: For any kind collaboration to happen, there must be personal relationships, which are based on trust, friendship and fun. PEXforum brings together like-minded people who want to make a difference. They work in different environments but share a common agenda. PEXforum offers a space for dialogue and know-how sharing, creates a trust-based community of leaders, thereby facilitates collaboration. This kind of togetherness will prepare us for future developments in a stronger way with more solidarity and resilience.

Delphine Moralis: I agree with Rana. PEXforum is a unique space for philanthropy infrastructure networks and organisations. The first PEXforum was organised a couple of months before the pandemic, and now we have the opportunity to look back, review what we discussed then and look forward. Looking forward is very important to make our vision for philanthropy reality, because we know more than we did back then. We have a very well-developed programme for the PEXforum, we will have a lot of opportunities to reflect, to collaborate, to learn from new insights, to study transformative philanthropic practices, but also engage with each other as human beings.

For that, we have also left quite a bit of open space in the programme for each and every one of us participating to bring our hearts and souls into the mix, and create opportunities for more engaged philanthropic infrastructure. So I’m looking forward to that! I hope many our peers from philanthropy infrastructure will be able to join us.

PEXforum is the Europe-wide event which brings together a community that represents over 70+ regional, national, European and global philanthropy networks to collectively identify challenges and opportunities for the sector, share best practices, insights and projects, and spur collaboration in the field.

The PEXforum 2022 “Driving (eco)systems change: Exploring the transformative power of collaboration in philanthropy” will take place on 24-26 August at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, co-hosted by TÜSEV and Philea and facilitated by SenseTribe. Registrations for PEXforum are currently open

This interview was conducted by Alina Shenfeldt, Philea


Delphine Moralis
Chief Executive Officer, Philea
Rana Kotan
Secretary General, TÜSEV